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If you travel far enough south, you will find the bottom of the world. It’s not the South Pole, and it’s not Antarctica. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t even cold.
When I was six years old, I bought my dad a mug that read “world’s best dad.” My dad was never much of a coffee drinker but he squeezed me tight and he told me I was the best son he could ask for. And you know, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that there’s another dad out there reciting the very same line to his six year old son at any given moment, but nonetheless, hearing him say that made me who I am today. Needless to say, I tried; I really tried, with every ounce of every fragment of my very existence to make him proud. And really, honestly, I thought I did pretty well considering the circumstances.
My dad never graduated high school. He worked for $9.15 an hour as an auto mechanic. It goes without saying that I never respected him any less for that. He knew everything in the world worth knowing as far as I was concerned. Me, I always planned on finishing up my senior year as one of the top students in my class and attending a decent college on some kind of scholarship, but truly, I would have rather just have been my dad. I’m more frightened of failing to be as good of a man as him then failing to be a doctor, or lawyer, or whatever field it is my guidance counselors tell me I should be focusing on after high school.
I’m eighteen now; a few months ago, my dad shot himself in the head. Needless to say, he’s dead.
When I was thirteen, my dad and I climbed in his truck and we drove for a few hours and he told me we were going to visit his favorite place on earth. We arrived at a series of waterfalls and my dad, he put his hand on my shoulder and I saw what it was that made it so great, but for me, it wasn’t the beauty of it so much as the fact that it was so sacred to my dad. So untouchable, left unmaimed by those who couldn’t fully appreciate it. And I remember, word for word, my father telling me that if the world ever really had to end, it would end there. My thirteen year old self didn’t grasp it, but I pretended I did at the time, not to expose the foolish boy that I was to my guru of a father. And you see, I understand it clearly now, for I am wise. But really, honestly, part of me wishes I didn’t.
When the general condition of things began to decline, it happened too quickly to even consider attempting to stop it. Everything was less. We eventually took our phone of the hook altogether to prevent the seemingly perpetual calls from bill collectors. My dad would come home later and later every night and usually I would have been fast asleep by the time he stumbled into our two bedroom apartment. On the rare occasion I was awake upon his arrival, I wouldn’t hesitate to ask him how his day was. He would look at me with his sad, drunk puppy dog eyes, and he would always say the same thing:
“Let’s just say I’m making my way to the bottom of the world.”
And he would make his way over to me and hug me tight, and I never was sure whether it was in a drunken stupor or because I made him proud and he wanted to tell me that without having to congratulate me verbally. There never were the right words anyway. There was part of me that believed it would be too painful for him to recognize my accomplishments, having been greater than his own. For some people, being the high school drop out alcoholic father to a successful son is the equivalent of having your failures shoved down your throat by your fellow alumni of 1968, the one who’s a doctor, or maybe the best selling author.
After a couple years I stopped asking him how his day was. His answers were tedious and dismal. But still, I never stopped respecting him, idolizing him even.
And me, I never blamed my dad for his deteriorating condition. I blamed the rising gas prices, I blamed the miserable weather, and I blamed my mother for having left us. Above all, I placed the blame on the cruel world and the people populating it, who had the audacity, who had the nerve to bulldoze a sky scraper of a man into a shack, support beams rotting, ready to collapse any day, any month, any year…
And one night my father walked into the apartment in perfect composure. More sober than I had seen him in years, and I think I would have preferred the blithering drunkard I had grown semi comfortable with. I didn’t know this man. And he reached out his hand, like he had that day at the waterfalls, and he rested it on my shoulder, but this time, it was heavier. And I could tell on those hands lay a burden of more weight than I could possibly imagine. And he spoke in a somber voice, a voice strange and unfamiliar to me. And he said in a hoarse whisper, “Tyler, I’m going to the bottom of the world.” And I knew where he was going and for a split second I considered asking if I could accompany him. Really, I don’t remember if the reason I didn’t was because of the thousand word essay I had due the next day or out of fear of what my noble, sagacious father had become. After he left, I was uncomfortably cold the remainder of the night. My father didn’t return. They found his body at the bottom of the falls. The doctors said that if the bullet hadn’t killed him, the fall would have.
Tonight I will endeavor to the bottom of the world myself. I don’t believe that doing so will lower gas prices, and I don’t think the weather will clear. If it changes my mother in any way, I don’t care to find out.
But I suppose I would rather the bottom of the world approach on my terms than those of the world around me. And anyway, if someone brave and valiant like my father could be so weathered by this storm we call life, someone weak such as myself, well, I don’t really stand a chance, now do I?